Augmented and Virtual Reality
Virtual reality is not just a fancy party-trick. Its true immersion capability offers a platform unlike any other, and it’s here to stay. Increasingly simulations are rendered in four dimensions and we are invited to experience them using our senses of sight, touch and hearing (with smell and taste well on the way). For as little as $2-3, you too can see what all the fuss is about with a basic Google Cardboard variation sold on eBay.
The advent of affordable yet effective household augmented and virtual reality devices have sent companies and developers alike scrambling to seize their share of this growing marketplace. All want to get in on the action, a probable multi-billion-dollar industry.
Just last week, news was abuzz with Sony and Samsung patenting augmented reality contact lenses. Significant investments have been made too by the standard big players. Specifically, Google with Google Glasses and Google Cardboard, Facebook with Oculus Rift and 360 Video, and Microsoft with Hololens.
So what is all the fuss about anyway?
Fully Immersed Experiences
Virtual reality is immersion in a simulated environment whereas augmented reality overlays onto the real world.
Most notably, virtual and augmented reality have had immediate impact on entertainment such as video and gaming. It’s not too hard to understand why, because it offers a whole new perspective. We can now feel as though we are actually within a world.
Developers have been quick to realise this groundbreaking technology is suitable beyond these fields. Allure of being able to create immersive virtual worlds for the purpose of storytelling is extremely well suited to just about anything. Content producers of all industry now have a new means to effectively communicate, engage and listen.
New Opportunity to Engage
Virtual and augmented reality technology lends itself perfectly to education. Students can be anywhere at any time and learn through interactive simulation. This is useful for teachers too.
Unlike a textbook, video or lecture, teachers can track in real time if students are engaged and understand through motion senses integrated into virtual reality devices. For example, if a student stops nodding their head, or fails to look in the required direction, a subtle prompt can be sent to the teacher. They can then take the required action and provide the student with the resources that they need.
Similarly, brain injured patients have been able to benefit from virtual reality, used in their rehabilitation. Initial findings have been promising, with Immersive Virtual Reality Therapy found to significantly improve cognitive and motor skill function for brain-related injuries (Pietrzak, Pullman, McGuire, 2014).
Simulated Practical Experience
Whilst virtual reality is not the real thing, it’s getting incredibly close. Simulations allow students valuable practice through increasingly real-life simulated practical experience. Effective simulated training programs have been around for years, for example training new pilots. Increasingly people are less bound by geographical and financial constraints.
Real-Life Implications for Business
So what does this mean for business? The next form of the store or mall is no longer physical, but virtual. One where virtual reality and augmented reality will replace the physical mall or store experience.
E-commerce and online shopping have constantly faced one challenge: the deep-rooted desire to try before we buy. Not just seeing but holding, wearing and trying out are all crucial steps in the purchase process. This barrier has long been reflected in online conversion rates (browsers who become buyers), which hover around 1%- 4%, compared to rates of 20%-40% in physical offline stores.
But that may all be about to change. A host of improvements in user experience are making it easier than ever for buyers to find and even try products online.
Try Before You Buy
One exciting application of virtual and augmented reality is to showcase large purchases, like furniture, that consumers often have trouble visualising in their home (even when shopping in an actual showroom). The tech platform Cimagine has pioneered an augmented reality tool that lets shoppers arrange furniture and appliances in their own living space. By integrating users’ own photos of their home with product images, the app provides buyers a concrete visualisation of possible purchases. Importantly, retailers can tap into this technology by incorporating a single line of Cimagine code into their websites. Check out the video by following the link above.
Marketing Using Virtual Reality
In a sign of things to come, one of the most talked about virtual reality experience at the resent SXSW Conference was a clever marketing campaign. McDonald’s gave users headsets and transported them inside a Happy Meal box. Armed with a virtual paintbrush, they decorated the box in wild colours, while surrounded by all the trappings of a Happy Meal. Check out what else they’re up to in the video below!
Others are getting in on the action too. At Tommy Hilfiger and Dior, shoppers can put on virtual reality headsets to watch 360-degree runway shows and even go behind-the-scenes with models. AT&T used Samsung’s virtual reality technology to offer an experience across 133 stores, to send shoppers on a virtual Carnival Cruise.
The Takeaway: Virtual Reality is Here to Stay
Make the most of it!
Effectiveness of virtual reality is likely to increase with further research and technology advancements. Like all established technological advancements things look set to get bigger and better too. With more people set to uptake augmented and virtual reality it will become part of our everyday life.
From a digital marketing perspective, ultimately, virtual reality solves a fundamental challenge: integrating feeling, both physical and emotional, into experience.
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